Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chasing Natalia

Clouder Number Nine was gathered in their quarters when the main screen blinked on. It was Alan, the chief human computer tech.

“We have something you might be interested in, Nala,” said Alan on the screen.

“What?” asked the Russian Blue cat, after she switched on her translator.

“This,” Alan said.

This turned out to be security camera footage of a cat that looked enough like Nala to be her twin. The cat was sulking around a town that was dominated by an onion domed church. She met with a human in the shadow of the building. After a brief conversation, the human bent down and put a touch screen tablet in front of the cat, who raised a paw and placed it on the screen. The human put the tablet away and extended a hand and the cat shook it with her paw. Then they left in different directions. The Nala look alike got into a limo and was driven out of the security camera range.

“That looks just like you, Nala,” commented Alexander Cattus, the youngest member of the clouder being that he was a nine month old kitten.

“I know,” said Alan. “But we know it isn't because Nala was at headquarters when this was taken.”

“When was this?” asked Nala.

“About an hour ago,” Alan said. “It just got noticed because I ran the Whisker Recognition program again.”

“An hour ago I was with Rhys in the dining hall,” Nala said.

“If that isn't you,” Erik O'Brian, the white and black short hair, said. “Then it must be...”

“Natalia,” growled out his sister, Fiona. Her long black and white fur was starting to stand on end. “It's about time we found her.”

The door opened and the military kilt clad form of Angus MacDougal strode in.

“I just heard,” Angus said, “We found Natalia.”

“We did, sir,” said Alan, who visibly straightened on the monitor at the arrival of his superior.

“Where?” Angus asked. Natalia was a sore subject for the Clouder and Angus and the sooner she was dealt with the better.

“Russia,” Alan said. “I'm running a program to analyze the skyline and figure out where exactly right now.”

“Good,” Angus replied. “Let me know where when you figure it out.”

“Sir, yes sir,” snapped Alan. The screen went blank as Alan went back to work.

Angus turned to the Clouder. They started planning the mission, even not knowing where exactly they were going. There were certain things that were always true of traveling to the former Soviet Union. Angus called Molly, the administrative assistant assigned to the Clouder, and got her working on the paperwork. The paperwork for the visas for the humans was just the start. There was also the issues of weapons Angus would be taking and for taking cats without a quarantine. It would be helpful if they could find some kind of threat that Natalia was making against Russia as well. Natalia's status as a “Cat Most Wanted” by Great Britain wouldn't carry much weight in Russia.

Sure, they could sneak across the border and carry off the mission without anyone being the wiser. But no one wanted to antagonize Russia over a cat. It was far better to have cooperation and that was what they were seeking.

The screen came back on.

“We've found the town, sir,” Alan said on the screen.

“Where?” Angus asked.

“A town in the Sverdlovsk Oblast,” Alan said.

“Where?” asked Phoebe, the gray and white long haired cat.

“Outside Yekaterinburg,” Alan explained. “In the Ural mountains. Siberia.”

“Brr, Siberia,” Erik said. “I'm glad I get to stay on the plane, where it is warm, to do computer support.”

“Actually, the weather report for the next little while is highs in the mid 20 degrees Celsius and lows in low teens. Quite comfortable,” Alan explained.

“Then I won't be packing the wool,” Angus joked.

The screen devided and Molly showed up on the screen next to Alan.

“Commander MacDougal,” Molly said. “The paperwork is finished. You're cleared to fly into Yekaterinburg.”

“But?” Angus asked. “I hear a but in your voice.”

“But the Russians want you to leave any and all weapons on the plane,” Molly said. “That's the bad news.”

“What's the good news?” inquired Nala.

“They only specified Angus and any other human needs to leave weapons on the plane,” Molly smirked. “They said nothing about the lasers in the collars.”

“Ok, we can work with that,” Angus said. “Thanks, Molly. Alan.”

The computer screen blinked off with his dismissal.

“Wheels up in a half hour,” Angus commanded. “Gather what equipment you need and meet me at the Land Rover then.”

The cats sketched a salute with their paws and turned to get what they needed. Angus went to the armory and the equipment room to pack. When that was accomplished, he stopped by the Veterinary Ward to tell his wife good bye. By the time he got to the Land Rover his two lieutenants had the cats loaded and were waiting for him. He got in and drove for the air field. Within the hour, Clouder Number Nine, cats and human support, were winging their way to Siberia.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Graduation Day

Rhys Llewelyn was nervous. The results of the practical exam were expected back today. If he, and the others in his class, passed then on Saturday they would receive their badges. (Not that cats could carry their badges on their persons but it was the principle of the thing.) If he didn't pass then it would be another month before he could take another practical to try again.

Angus MacDougal, the chief human of M.E.O.W., walked into the room. He looked at the cats--kittens really, except for Rhys of course--being cats. The kittens Myfi and Finn were engaged in a steeplechase around the cat trails on the walls up to the ceiling. Three of the others were watching to see who would win. Another four were engaged in game involving a ball of yarn.

“Ahem,” Angus cleared his throat. All feline activity stopped and the seven cats looked at him with their full attention. It was a good thing he was used to it because that much focused feline attention could be unnerving.

“I am pleased to announce that all of you have passed the practical exam and will be graduating on Saturday,” he said.

The felines nodded and went back to what they were doing. Except Rhys, who hadn't been doing anything to begin with. Angus walked over to him and crouched down.

“Nala is exceptionally proud of you,” Angus confided to the cat. “She told me that if you didn't have other plans, she'd love to see you this evening.” Rhys looked up at the man. Trainees weren't allowed to roam headquarters without orders or an escort.

“Merow?” Rhys said. He hadn't turned on his translator so it came out in cat instead of English.

Angus, with his years of being a human in a feline organization, knew what the cat meant. Rhys wanted to know how he could visit his girlfriend.

“As of today, right now actually,” Angus smiled. “You're not a trainee but you are not an agent yet so you can go where you want.” He looked at the cat who realized what his change in circumstance might mean. “Within reason. There are still classified areas but you don't need an escort anymore.”

Rhys rubbed against Angus's leg. His tail curled up the human's limb under the kilt. Angus laughed and removed the offending appendage. It was one of the hazards of being a Scott around cats.

That night, Rhys and Nala took a ramble through the field around headquarters. It was a beautiful July evening in the heart of Wales. The some of neighboring fields were full of sheep and the others had freshly cut hay ready for bailing. The sun was beginning to set and romance was in the air. The two felines knew that they only had two more days to enjoy this because after Saturday, Rhys would be a full Agent of M.E.O.W. and Nala's convalescence would be over. They would have separate assignments. Rhys wouldn't be a member of Clouder Number Nine because that clouder was full and the powers that be knew of their relationship and while it wasn't against the rules, per se, they did like to keep romantic partners in different clouders to cut down on conflicts of interest.

They walked to the top of the hill and watched the sunset. Their tails twined together and they just sat there. They had so much to say and not enough time to say it so they let their presence say it for them.

Saturday dawned sunny and warm. The graduation ceremony was set for ten in the morning and dignitaries from the Ministry and other intelligence agencies that knew of the cats' existence started arriving an hour before. The graduation was partly to mark the achievement of the kittens, and in this instance a grown cat, and partly to reassure others in Whitehall that the money to train cats wasn't wasted. Video of the practical exercise and their success in France lead the ceremony. Then the seven graduating felines were called up one at a time and Angus fastened their new tactical collars around their necks. Lady Gwen fastened a badge to each collar, but that badge would be removed and placed next to the cat's bed in their quarters later.

“I'm pleased to announce that this class will be forming a new clouder,” Lady Gwen said at the conclusion of the badge ceremony. “Clouder Number Twenty- One.” There was polite applause from the audience. “They also have their first assignment- they have been attached to to the Athlete security team for team Great Britain at the Rio Olympics. Clouder Twenty-One has proved their expertise at low profile security of large civilian gatherings and I expect they will continue to show just what a cat can do.”

Lady Gwen nodded to one of Angus's Lieutenants to step forward. “Lieutenant Archibald Ross, I'm pleased to promote you to Captain and place you as Chief Human for Clouder Number Twenty-One.” She gestured for Angus to pin the new insignia of rank on Archie.

The ceremony ended after that and everyone retired to the canteen for cake and punch. The cats enjoyed cat mint tea and salmon pate instead. The human dignitaries mingled and talked with the graduates, though they still had trouble with the idea that cats could actually converse. Soon the guests went back to their jobs and the cats went back to their quarters.

Captain Ross removed the badges and placed them where they would go. He gathered his new clouder and gave them their briefing. The cats had an hour to get ready to depart. Rhys had had his go bag ready since Wednesday so he went looking for Nala to say goodbye.

He found her in the canteen, finishing off the salmon pate. Ever since she'd had the feeding tube removed, Nala had been eating everything she could. If she didn't get more active, she was in danger of becoming a fat cat.

“I've got to go,” Rhys said, in cat. There was no need for translation.

“I know,” Nala replied in the same language.

“I'll be gone a month,” he continued.

“I'll be leave in a couple days myself,” she said. “Hopefully I'll be back before you.”

“Where are you going?” Rhys asked. “That is if you can tell me.”

“We have a lead on Natalia,” Nala said. “There is very little I can't tell you.”

She moved her head closer to his. They rubbed their heads together. She affectionately licked behind his ear. He purred. They nuzzled for a moment before the door opened and Captain Scott walked in.

“Rhys, it's time to go,” Captain Ross said.
Rhys licked the top of Nala's head and turned to go. Captain Ross lead the way with the cat at his side. Nala watched until they crossed the threshold and the door swung behind them. She hoped Rhys would be safe. She turned back to the plate of the salmon pate as the door clicked shut.